As we all know, excellent teaching lies at the heart of excellent schools. The quality of teaching, above all else, has the highest impact on pupils’ attainment, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – something amply demonstrated by an increasing body of research.
Teachers not only motivate and inspire, they also lay the groundwork for pupils to lead successful lives in an increasingly complex and technological world.
It is therefore essential that we invest time and resources in helping teachers to perform at the highest possible level, including on-going opportunities to update their own subject knowledge and teaching skills.
We also need to retain and continue to motivate great teachers throughout their careers. Evidence shows that access to high quality CPD and working with a senior leadership team who understand and support this, can be a key factor in motivating teachers to stay within the profession and develop their careers.
So what is good CPD? Evidence clearly shows that CPD is most effective when it matches the needs of the teacher, pupils and school and encompasses a varied spectrum of support – ranging from workshops targeted at specific skills, knowledge, advice and guidance and bespoke in-school sessions through to peer-to-peer support, formation of school clusters, coaching and mentoring (and many things in between).
Good CPD is based on evidence – evidence about what makes effective teaching and learning, evidence about CPD itself and evidence about the subjects being taught. In fast-moving subjects such as science, it also gives teachers plenty of opportunity to engage with new developments and areas of knowledge, as well as helping them refresh, and where appropriate, challenge their existing understanding.
It should also be practical – giving teachers opportunities to practise what they have learnt, reflect on it and discuss with others, therefore embedding new knowledge and skills.
Supporting teachers in science is a particular priority and an area of fast-moving developments in the UK. Reports from Engineering UK and the CBI point to the importance of STEM skills and knowledge for young people, with STEM graduates expecting to earn £250,000 more than non-graduates and 43 per cent of employers currently having difficulty recruiting staff with STEM skills.
Secondary schools play a central role in ensuring young people have these highly valued skills to give them the best possible career opportunities. It is therefore vital that those teaching science have access to appropriate CPD which helps them develop their own knowledge and skills.
This is where the network of Science Learning Centres and the National STEM Centre can help. The Science Learning Centres are there to provide all teachers and schools with access to high quality, affordable professional development in science – be it specialist training for those teaching sciences post-16, those working with key stage 3 and 4, or heads of departments.
Science Learning Centres work with individual schools and with clusters of schools, providing bespoke guidance and support, but with everything grounded in up-to-date science and education research.
The National STEM Centre is also there to help. With more than 4,000 resources available free of charge on the eLibrary and many more available in our physical resource centre at York, teachers can find exciting and inspiring support across all phases and subject areas.
And the National STEM Centre works closely with other sources of support, including the scientific societies, the British Science Association, STEMNET and others to ensure that teachers, schools and colleges can easily access the best support for them.
While there is a cost for the Science Learning Centre support, if you are from a state-funded school or college, you are eligible to apply for financial support from either the ENTHUSE Charitable Trust (if one of your teachers is participating in a course or activity run by the National Science Learning Centre) or an Impact Award (for selected activities run through the regional Science Learning Centres).
In terms of the National STEM Centre, access to support is free of charge – all you need to do is register on the website. The ENTHUSE Awards are supported by a unique partnership including the Wellcome Trust, the Department for Education and seven of the UK’s largest companies, all of whom want to help schools and teachers in a practical way to make science education great. The Gatsby Charitable Foundation supports the National STEM Centre for exactly the same reason.
I meet many teachers who have benefited from working with the Science Learning Centres and using the National STEM Centre and I am always struck by the way it enthuses them and they radiate new confidence and excitement about science.
Yvonne Baker is chief executive of Myscience, which manages the national network of Science Learning Centres, the National STEM Centre and other programmes supporting STEM education.
Go online for more information on the Network of Science Learning Centres and alsothe National STEM Centre.